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Local swimmers triumph at international competition

District of Columbia Aquatics Club members nab more than 100 medals

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District of Columbia Aquatics Club members at the International Gay & Lesbian Aquatics world championships last month in New York. (Photo courtesy DCAC)

The historic World Pride and Stonewall 50 celebrations in New York City last month coincided with six days of athletic competition. 

The International Gay & Lesbian Aquatics world championships drew in about 900 athletes from around the globe in the sports of swimming, water polo, diving, synchronized swimming and open water swimming.

When it was over, swimmers from the District of Columbia Aquatics Club (DCAC) had captured 82 gold, 28 silver and 27 bronze medals in the pool. DCAC broke 17 IGLA world records and had two swimmers win medals in open water swimming.

The IGLA championships were founded 30 years ago and have continued to thrive. The sense of history seemed especially prevalent at this year’s event.

“On the 50th anniversary of Stonewall, it was important for DCAC and the Washington Wetskins water polo team to compete at this year’s championships,” says Jack Markey, a founding member of both teams. “Older athletes who were instrumental in founding and leading LGBT aquatics renewed friendships and athletic rivalries, while looking on with pride at the accomplishments of younger athletes from teams around the world.”

For the fourth year in a row, a contingent of swimmers from Uganda were at the IGLA championships. They are wildly popular with all the teams and each year with them in attendance serves as a reminder as to how far other countries have progressed in regard to LGBT rights.

“Uganda is a place where same-sex relationships are criminalized, social acceptance is low and LGBT individuals face harassment, imprisonment, blackmail and violence,” Markey says. “While the challenges they face back home are reminiscent of pre-Stonewall America, their presence at IGLA reinforces the importance of LGBT sports programs and the positive effect they have on people’s lives.”

DCAC swimmer Geoff Heuchling attended his first IGLA in 1994 which was also held in New York City in conjunction with the Gay Games. He wasn’t planning on competing this year because of a career change and home move. 

In April he went to a D.C. screening of the documentary “Light in the Water” and changed his mind. The film chronicles the journey of the LGBT-based West Hollywood Aquatics team and offers a glimpse of what it was like to be a gay athlete in the 1980s. Not only is it a story about swimming, water polo and the HIV/AIDS crisis, it is a story about hope, perseverance and the battle for acceptance.

“The film reminded me what IGLA is all about and prompted me to go. My brother Peter swam for West Hollywood Aquatics and died from AIDS in 1992,” Heuchling says. “Going back for another IGLA was a touchstone to my brother. IGLA was very meaningful to him.”

Heuchling was one of DCAC’s record setters at the championships and he plans to continue competing for a variety of reasons.

“These are people who I have been swimming against for decades and it is great to see them every year,” Heuchling says. “Swimming is good for both my emotional and physical health and is a marker as to how I am aging. Plus, I value any time I get to spend with my DCAC teammates.”

DCAC swimmer Chris Meadows was attending his first IGLA championships. Born in Georgia and raised in Tennessee, he was brought up with swimming as part of his family. The Georgia Tech aquatic center is named after his great-uncle, Herb McAuley.

A former American University swimmer, Meadows was competing at a multi-day swim meet for the first time since finishing his collegiate career in 2012.

“It’s always a challenge to prepare your body for multiple fast swims over several days,” Meadows says. “IGLA was a reminder of how much I love this sport and that I need to be in the pool.”

Participating in his first LGBT swim meet also came with unexpected experiences and important interactions with older LGBT swimmers.

“One thing that stood out was hearing everyone’s stories. Even if they were sad stories, such as the large number of swimmers lost to the AIDS epidemic, they were important to hear,” Meadows says. “I’m not just swimming, I’m learning life lessons. Plus, it was pretty cool to have a drag queen as an announcer at the pool.”

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Celebrating sports history: DC Gay Flag Football’s 25th season

Head of District’s premier league says it’s ‘groovin’ to its silver anniversary

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The DC Gay Flag Football’s 25th season is underway. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

What started when gay football fans got together in the 1990s to play their favorite sport is now a D.C. institution with 270 players in 20 teams spread over three fields, playing in both fall and spring. 

“Get off the bench,” shouts the slogan on the league’s website. “Get in the game!” 

The D.C. Gay Flag Football League turns 25 years old this month and is considered not only the premier league of its kind in the District, but is recognized across the country for its players, organization, and spirit.

“The way we run our league and the way we compete make us stand out relative to the rest,” DCGFFL Commissioner Logan Dawson told the Washington Blade. 

For those who don’t know flag football from any other kind, the difference is easy to spot: There’s no contact allowed. As the rules say, “That includes tackling, diving, blocking, and screening. Instead, players wear flags that hang along their sides by a belt. To ‘tackle’ the person in possession of the ball, the opposing team needs to pull one or both of their flags off.” There are a lot more rules, but that’s the one that really sets it apart from tackle football. 

The sport itself dates back to World War II and its origins have been traced to Fort Meade, Md. 

What’s the secret to the league’s longevity? “I think we attract and hold on to great athletes who are highly competitive, not only on the field, but also, in our professional and personal lives,” he said. Dawson, 32, plays flag football as well as manages the league. He’s currently single, but says his first love is the weather. 

“I knew in second grade that I wanted to be a meteorologist,” said Dawson, who moved to the District to be a meteorologist with the National Weather Service. 

A prolific swimmer since high school, he came out as he started grad school at Purdue University in Indiana in 2012. In an op-ed appearing in Outsports in 2014, Dawson wrote about competing in his first Gay Games in Cleveland along with a group of other gay swimmers from Colorado, and left that experience determined to join a gay sports league. 

He found it in the fall of 2018 in the DCGFFL, the same year the league’s Generals team won Gay Games XVIII. The league supports up to five travel teams, which take part in annual tournaments nationwide. It also hosts a summer tournament each year in Rehoboth Beach, Del.

“There’s a good amount of participation by people who played in the league from the very early days,” Dawson said. “I think we’re just in the sweet spot, where we have a lot of the original participants, a lot of new players, and we’re just kind of grooving right now.”

The first group gathered at Francis Field near Dupont Circle in 1994. Three years later, another group formed to play just steps from the Washington Monument Mall. They came together in 1998 to form what is now the DCGFFL. 

“For the majority of those seasons, we mainly had one division that played that was co-ed,” said Dawson. “This is our second season that we’ve had a Womens+ Division made up of [cisgender] women, trans and nonbinary individuals.” The Womens+ teams are called the Senators. 

Jayme Fuglesten is director of the Womens+ Division and has played in the league in most seasons since 2011.

“The DCGFFL has been a major part of my adult life,” she says. “I came out while playing in the league in no small part because of the love and support of this community.”

Why does she think the league has been such a success to have lasted 25 years?

“I think the league has been so successful because of its focus on inclusion and community,” she says. “I remember being so surprised in my early years when JJ and so many others would just come right up to me, hug me, and welcome me. And that really hasn’t changed in the 20+ seasons I’ve been around. It also continues to grow and respond to the needs and desires of our players. One example of that is the new Womens+ division, which gives an additional space for people who identify as womens+ to play and cultivate stronger relationships.”

DC Gay Flag Football plans to celebrate its 25th anniversary with a dance party and silent auction at Penn Social on Saturday, Sept. 23. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Next month, the DCGFF will send both Generals and Senators to Gay Bowl XXIII in Seattle. “That’s going to be the first time we’re going to have two Womens+ teams at the Gay Bowl,” Dawson told the Blade. “It’s reflective of the new generation of the league.” 

Earlier generations had trouble attracting new players. As the Blade reported in 2019, what had been a steady number of 20 to 22 teams dropped dramatically to 14, its lowest roster since 2011. The league’s leadership turned it around with new recruiting events, new sponsors, changes in their social event locations, changes to their player draft and a change of venue for league play beyond Carter Barron fields in Rock Creek Park in Northwest Washington. 

Brentwood Hamilton Park in Northeast Washington is now home to the recreation division and Randall Field south of the Capitol is the league’s third venue. 

Just like every facet of society, from coast to coast, what happened next hit the league hard. “COVID happened in spring of 2020,” recalled Dawson. “Everything shut down, and we did not play for what amounted to three full seasons for a year and a half.”

But once the world emerged from quarantine and lockdowns, flag football players started flocking to the DCGFFL. “We’ve had probably over 150 new players join our league in the last two years,” he said.

One thing is certain, said Dawson: Despite the name, not everyone who plays in the gay flag football league is LGBTQ+. 

“It’s a really great community. There’s a straight couple that’s married and will be soon having a child in the next month or so,” Dawson said. “They met playing in the league, just like we’ve had gay couples who meet in the league and eventually get married and have children.”

Prominent among the league’s many sponsors is the NFL hometown team, the Washington Commanders. “They are highly supportive of us, not just financially, but also publicly supporting what we are, and our mission,” Dawson said. 

This current NFL season is the first since 2021 without an out gay player on the gridiron. That’s when Carl Nassib became the first active pro football player to come out as gay. 

(Washington Blade file photo by Adam Hall)

While Dawson said, “I’m sure there are more out there” who have not yet come out, Nassib’s retirement makes this anniversary of the DCGFFL even more significant. 

“It’s unfortunate people still feel they cannot be out while they’re playing and doing what they love, but that’s the reason why something like the D.C. Gay Flag Football League is so important,” he said. “To show that there are gay and trans athletes who exist and love playing sports.”

The league plans to celebrate its 25th anniversary with a dance party and silent auction at Penn Social on Saturday, Sept. 23 starting at 8 p.m. Check the website for ticket information.

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Carl Nassib announces retirement

Openly gay NFL player made history when he came out in 2021

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(CBS News screenshot)

Carl Nassib, who made history in 2021 when he became the first active player in the National Football League to come out as gay, announced Wednesday he is retiring at age 30. 

“This is a bittersweet moment for me,” the free agent wrote in a post on Instagram. “But after seven seasons and just over 100 NFL games I am officially retiring from football to focus on my company Rayze.” 

Rayze is a mobile platform that connects people willing to give of themselves with those who need it most, born of an experience in Tampa, Fla., where Bucs players volunteered as mentors to kids being held in a nearby juvenile detention center. Rayze’s website says the company serves to “shine a light on opportunities that need volunteers, while making nonprofit engagement, volunteer recruitment and donating as simple and intuitive as possible.” 

“It really feels like just yesterday starting out as a walk-in at Penn State,” Nassib wrote in his post. “Football has given me more than I ever could have imagined. I can truly hang up my helmet for the last time knowing I gave it everything I had.” 

Ever since he came out in 2021, the former defensive end for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers has become a philanthropist for the LGBTQ community, especially for queer youth, personally donating $100,000 to the Trevor Project. That year, the NFL matched his donation, and in 2022, Nassib himself matched donations dollar for dollar, up to $100,000.

According to the Bucs, Nassib played in 99 regular-season NFL games with 38 starts,  recorded 187 tackles, 25.5 sacks, 45 tackles for loss, 59 quarterback hits, four forced fumbles, three fumble recoveries, one interception and 19 passes defended. In 2016, he the Cleveland Browns drafted him with the second pick in the third round. At Penn State, Nassib was a star player, leading the nation in sacks and forced fumbles during his senior year with the Nittany Lions in 2015.

“It was not an easy decision. It really, really wasn’t,” Nassib told People magazine in an exclusive interview timed to coincide with his Instagram. 

“This would have been my 23rd football season. I’ve been playing football since I was eight years old, and I’m really excited to move on to the next chapter of my life,” he said. 

Nassib says he began considering retirement last season before becoming a free agent, when he said he was “staying at the Bucs facility until 9 p.m. every night working on Rayze.”

“I feel like it’s my calling and it’s what I’m meant to do,” Nassib says of the app. “I’m really excited to move on to the next chapter of my life and to give Rayze everything that I have.”

In July, he posted that he had accepted an appointment to the board of directors of the local United Way chapter in his hometown of West Chester, Pa. 

Nassib said he is also going to work with the NFL in a new role, in matters related to the league’s philanthropic endeavors and its “diversity, equity and inclusion.”

“I think that I can provide a very rare and specific view of how life is for an out gay player, and I think that there are some amazing opportunities that I can also learn,” he told People.

“Maintaining that relationship shows that the NFL is continuing to support me. They’ve supported me so much over the last two years, and I really couldn’t have done it without that support,” he said.

Nassib said the NFL’s offer to utilize him in this new role “continues to show people that you can be yourself and compete at the highest level.”

But what he’s most excited to do with his time now, he told People, is to spend the holiday season with his family and his boyfriend, retired Olympian Søren Dahl. 

“I’ve spent 11 out of 12 Christmases away from my family, many of them alone in my apartment,” said Nassib. “I haven’t spent Thanksgiving with my family since 2010, so I am really, really looking forward to spending time with my family, my friends, and those special moments. And that’s something that I’ve been looking forward to for years.” 

That’s one of the many reasons why he wrote on Instagram: “I really feel like the luckiest guy on the planet.”

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Close out the summer with Team DC

United Night Out held at Audi Field

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A scene from last year’s United Night Out. (Washington Blade file photo by Kevin Majoros)

Team DC and Federal Triangles Soccer Club will host “United Night Out” on Saturday, Aug. 26 at 7:30 p.m.

This event will celebrate the LGBTQ community and cheer on the Black-and-Red as they take on the Philadelphia Union.

Team DC is the association of LGBTQ sports clubs in the greater Washington region with 42 member clubs (including FTSC) with more than 7,000 participants. Team DC sponsors the Pride Night OUT Series, which helps organize Pride nights with all local pro teams. In 2023, Team DC will sponsor 14 different Pride nights, including the United Night OUT. 

Tickets are $30 and can be purchased on Team DC’s website

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